Friday, April 19, 2013

No Such Thing As Barefoot Shoes

"Yeah, this dude was totally running the whole race in these toe shoes/sandals/sock looking things/flat little shoes with no support. He must be one of those barefoot runners."

I remember buying my first pair of Vibram Fivefingers. I went to the running store because my wife had said, "If you're going to be running now, you need to go get fitted for running shoes." The shoes that were suggested for me felt like I was running on a mattress. In a way that was a nice feeling, but at the same time something felt. . . wrong. I had a friend that did kettlebells in VFFs so I asked about the weird little toe shoes. I tried them on and they felt right. And so it began, not just my foray into minimalist running, but a long term frustration with the term "barefoot shoes". Before I even checked out, someone asked me if I was into barefoot running. I was wearing shoes, I was buying shoes to wear, and I was asked about barefoot running. Little did I know there was a barefoot running trend rolling up and about to seriously shake up the shoe industry as top brands struggled to define minimalist shoes and barefoot shoes.

There is no such thing as a barefoot shoe. This is more than a question of semantics. I don't need a dictionary to tell you that barefoot means your foot is bare. I'm not just being picky about what the word barefoot really means. I'm not trying to say nearly barefoot shoes are a bad thing. I happen to really enjoy running in mine. The point I am getting to is that running barefoot is different than anything else, no matter how well designed the shoe is, now matter how closely it resembles barefoot, it is not the same as running barefoot. I have begun supplementing my nearly barefoot running with more and more actually barefoot running.

I discovered last winter, that the more shoe I have on, the more sore I get from running. It took me quite a while longer to figure out why. Having never had a running coach, or even time for a running club, the only feedback I've had on my running is my own research and my own running. I've learned a lot from experimentation and I've learned the most from taking my shoes off.

My Xeroshoes huaraches showed me that I had a heel whip. When I sat my foot down in my stride and my heel landed off the sole of the sandal, I knew something was wrong. When I got on the treadmill barefoot, I really started to learn. If you run barefoot, and your foot twists while in contact with the ground. Unless you just ignore the feedback from your foot, you will feel it. If your foot skids forward on landing, you will feel the friction. If you push off with your toes instead of lifting your foot, you will know it.

No matter how minimal the shoe, it is going to mask some of the sensation and limit the feedback you get from your feet.

I don't believe this is always a bad thing. In fact, if I am running for time, I will be running in some sort of shoe. If I want to PR a 5K I am not so much worried that day about authentic barefoot running, I am going to insulate my feet so it will take more than a sliver of glass to stop my race.

I do believe, however that EVERY runner should spend some time barefoot. You will learn a lot from your feet.